Acer is further diversifying its Windows 8 portfolio with the Aspire P3-171, an 11-inch "Ultrabook" with a low-voltage Core i5 processor and SSD. More like a tablet with a keyboard case than a laptop, this sturdy $899 device packs a serious punch in its 1.7-lb. frame, but is it practical for real work?
Click to EnlargeThe Acer Aspire P3's design is most reminiscent of earlier Acer Windows 8 tablets, such as the W700 and the W510. The back and sides are made of a single piece of aluminum, which has a silver finish, and the corners are gently rounded. Unlike the Surface Pro, which has a trapezoidal shape, the P3 has a square design. We mean that literally and figuratively; it's functional, but not overly flashy.
Weighing 1.7 lbs., the Aspire P3 is lighter than the Microsoft Surface Pro, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700t and the Acer Iconia W700, all of which weigh 2 lbs. The HP Envy x2 is a lighter 1.5 lbs. Still, at 11.63 x 7.5 x 0.4 inches, the P3's heft is noticeable when you hold it in your arm for an extended period of time.
A strip of white plastic runs along the top of the back, with a 5-MP camera in the left corner. The top edge of the P3 has two air vents, and the bottom has two speakers. The left side has a microUSB port, a full-size USB 3.0 port and the power jack. The right side has a headphone jack, the power button and a volume rocker.
Click to EnlargeThe 11.6-inch touch-screen display on the Aspire P3 has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which is the same as the HP Envy x2, but a lower resolution than the Surface Pro, the ATIV and the W700, all of which have 1080p displays.
Though not as sharp as those higher-resolution displays, the Aspire P3's colors were vivid on high-def trailers for "Man of Steel" and "The Wolverine." Explosions were full of fiery reds and oranges, and we saw little to no pixelation or artifacts in darker scenes. We also enjoyed the wide viewing angles -- up to 178 degrees -- on the P3's display.
At 392 lux, the Aspire P3's display shone brighter than the tablet average (327), the HP Envy x2 (306) and the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700t (329), and was on a par with the Microsoft Surface Pro (394 lux).
The P3's 10-point touch screen was responsive to our inputs; we easily flicked through the Start screen, and were able to execute pinch-to-zoom and Windows 8 gestures with ease. Spend enough time in the desktop environment, though, and you'll want to attach a mouse. Even with the lower resolution, it still was a pain to target icons with our fingers.
The P3's audio was above average -- for a tablet. The bottom-mounted speakers were powerful enough for a few people to listen to music and movies comfortably. Bono's vocals and The Edge's guitar strums were crisp and clear on U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name," but the bass was underwhelming -- so the end result was that the track sounded tinny. Tweaking the settings using the Dolby Home Theater v4 control panel helped a little bit.
Click to EnlargeIncluded with the Aspire P3 is a Bluetooth keyboard case that adds 1.3 lbs. to the tablet's overall weight. It's important to note that this keyboard doesn't attach mechanically to the tablet, as some other Windows 8 hybrids do. When open, the bottom lip of the slate rests in a groove right above the keyboard, so that the device is propped at a good angle for typing.
Though unique, this setup doesn't feel very secure. We had no trouble using the P3 on our lap, but we would expect the tablet to flop backward easily if we were on a bumpy bus ride or turbulent flight.
Overall, the P3 offered only a fair typing experience. Although the keys are large and well-spaced, the Caps Lock is miniscule and crammed next to the tilde key. Also, the layout required more force than usual for our inputs to register. Several times while writing this review, we missed a letter or two because we didn't press the key hard enough.
Above the keyboard is a power button, two blue status lights and a microUSB port used to charge the accessory. The power button and lights are hidden when the tablet is propped up, but we like that the keyboard automatically paired with the tablet so that we didn't have to mess with any Bluetooth settings.
Click to EnlargePowered by a third-generation 1.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y Processor, 4GB of RAM and a 120GB SSD, the Aspire P3 turned in above-average benchmark scores. However, other Windows 8 tablets are faster.
The P3's PCMark7 score of 3,642 is higher than the tablet average of 2,877, but lower than the marks scored by most other tablets with Intel Core processors. For example, the Surface Pro, the Samsung ATIV and the Acer Iconia W700 -- all of which have a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor -- turned in scores of 4,721, 4442 and 4,439, respectively. The HP Envy x2, which has a 1.8-GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor, scored a measly 1,428.
The 120GB SSD booted Windows 8 in a fast 8 seconds, nearly three times as fast as the average (22 seconds) and beating out the ATIV (13 seconds), the Surface Pro (10 seconds) and the x2 (14 seconds).
However, the Aspire P3's SSD wasn't as fast when it came to duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files. It took the Acer 62 seconds, a rate of 82.2 MBps. Although the tablet average is 63 MBps, the Surface Pro is a much faster 124 MBps, the W700 was 138 MBps and the Samsung scored 170 MBps. The Envy x2, which uses Flash memory, came in last, at 22 MBps.
The P3 took 8 minutes and 34 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice, which is about half the time it takes the average tablet (17:17) but slower than the Surface Pro (5:33) and the ATIV (5:50). The Envy x2's Atom processor was no match; it took that tablet nearly half an hour to complete the task (29:45).
The Intel Graphics HD 4000 are fine for watching movies, but not much more. The P3's 3DMark11 score of 425, while on a par with the Surface Pro (424), is significantly below the average of 683, as well as the graphics on the Samsung ATIV (566).
Even on the recommended settings, the P3 could only average 17 frames per second in "World of Warcraft." On these same settings, the Surface Pro managed 31 fps, while the Samsung ATIV notched 23 fps. You're better off sticking to less-demanding games in the Windows Store.
Click to EnlargeImages taken outdoors using the P3's rear-facing 5-MP camera were colorful and fairly detailed. We could make out individual leaves on trees and blades of grass near us, but the camera wasn't able to pick up finer-detailed masonry on the building across the street from us.
Indoors, a test shot revealed good color saturation but a fair amount of noise, and less detail. A Furby looked like an amorphous orange blob.
The front-facing 1-MP camera picked up our skin tone well, but our lavender shirt was a bit washed-out. It wasn't the most detailed shot, but the camera will more than suffice for video chats.
Click to EnlargeAcer says the 4-cell, 5280-mAh battery in the P3 should last up to 6 hours on a charge. When we initially ran the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), we found it lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes. However, disabling the included McAfee Security suite lengthened the battery life to 5:10. While that's better than the Surface Pro, which lasted an anemic 4:37, it's nearly two hours worse than the tablet average of 7:04, and about 50 minutes less than the ultraportable average.
In comparison, the Samsung ATIV endured for 6:38, the W700 lasted 6:48 and the HP Envy x2 lasted 6:52 (11:57 with its keyboard dock attached).
Click to EnlargeIncluded on the Aspire P3 are AcerCloud, Netflix, Nero BackItUp 12 Essentials, Amazon, Cut the Rope, Merriam-Webster dictionary, iCookbook SE, and Skype.
Trials of Microsoft Office, McAfee Internet Security Suite, and Norton Online Backup are also included.
Our $899 review unit of the Aspire P3-171-6820 is the top-end configuration, and features a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y processor, 4GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive.
Click to EnlargeYes, Acer is calling the Aspire P3 an Ultrabook, but this is really a Windows 8 tablet at its core and should be judged as such. At $899, the Acer Aspire P3 is positioned between the $624 Atom-powered Iconia W510 and the more powerful -- but more expensive -- $999 Iconia W700. However, the P3's battery life is far too short for us to recommend it, regardless of price or performance. Although it costs $300 more, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700t comes with a better keyboard dock and has an integrated stylus. More importantly, it lasts longer on a charge. What good is a tablet if it can't even get you through half the day?